According to Google Trends from the last five years, the search terms "hybrid cloud" and "public cloud" appear to almost be playing musical chairs―trading spots constantly but getting about equal attention.
This is consistent with the epiphany that most enterprises have had in the same period about the risks of taking an exclusively public cloud approach. Most CIOs we talk to say they are currently considering―or already down the path of―a holistic cloud strategy spanning on-prem and public cloud deployments. In other words, a hybrid cloud.
Before we get into the what and how of hybrid cloud, let’s unearth the why.
All roads point to application portability and lower costs
Line-of-business and C-suite leaders have a straightforward answer when asked why they consider cloud technologies (all of them: public, private, hybrid, multi, and poly).
From a top-line perspective, investing in the cloud engenders business flexibility: responding to competitive threats, creating new services for customers, complying with regulatory standards, etc. On the other end of the income statement, cloud technologies―almost by definition―can soothe the bottom line, enabling tighter control over operating expenses.
Cloud conversations with technology leaders, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more varied. While development managers maniacally focus on developer productivity (more lines of production-ready code in less time), operations managers are motivated by total cost of ownership (TCO) and resource usage.
DevOps teams, by nature of being at the cusp of application development and deployment, think in terms of application portability: the simple but powerful idea that applications should enjoy the freedom of being built independent of where they will live and the freedom to move across the continuum of on-prem, private, and public clouds with complete transparency to end users.
Easier said than done.
What is a hybrid cloud anyway?
The term hybrid cloud suffers from definition overload like any technology in that gawky teenage phase. The adoption patterns would suggest that while the industry may be slowly aligning to a definition, enterprises are almost evenly spread in their journey toward a true hybrid cloud.
For instance, according to a 2017 Voice of the Enterprise report by 451 research, companies generally follow the rule of thirds in their cloud transformation. Roughly a third are committed to a single public cloud provider. While this might be efficient on a small scale, enterprises run the risk of lock-in.
Another third have multi-cloud strategies, with no formal integration or orchestration between workloads. They hedge their bets effectively among multiple public cloud provides, private cloud providers, or some combination of the two but trade the risk of lock-in for added complexity.
The final third are genuine hybrid cloud pioneers who look to either migrate workloads across cloud boundaries or, more advantageously, set up some degree of workload portability, integration, orchestration, and unified management. This closely aligns to Red Hat’s vision of a true hybrid cloud.
It all sounds great, right? Let’s dig a little deeper. Consider that about 40% of enterprises that use the public cloud have pulled one or more workloads back from these services, according to Mark Peters of Enterprise Strategy Group. Not all applications are built to extract value from being deployed in the cloud. Clearly, there is no Magic 8 Ball to help match applications to cloud type. There are no clear right or wrong answers. However, at Red Hat, we believe there is a right approach to building a cloud strategy, and a wrong one.
A workload-driven cloud strategy
Red Hat’s approach to helping customers implement a hybrid cloud is built around three tenets.
First, start with a hybrid cloud infrastructure that is built from the ground up to enable flexibility and choice. Hybrid cloud isn’t an afterthought, it’s a fundamental design principle on which infrastructure building blocks like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Virtualization, Red Hat OpenStack Platform, and Red Hat Storage are built.
Second, piece together a development platform to help your developers build and deploy cloud-native apps. If Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the open operating system of the enterprise, Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform is the common platform bridging traditional and modern applications across the hybrid cloud.
A number of best-of-breed middleware solutions can be deployed in OpenShift. In addition, infrastructure elements like storage are integrated into OpenShift, allowing application portability without cumbersome and expensive application rewrites or downtime.
Finally, management tools to orchestrate workloads and automation tools to simplify day to day operations are essential to delivering the complete value of a hybrid cloud.
But wait! Don’t forget the secret sauce.
Some applications and workflows naturally work well in the public cloud. Others start out in the public cloud and might be coaxed into private clouds for regulatory, security, or TCO reasons. When seeking public cloud-friendly applications, some cloud admins look for deployments across more than one public cloud with two-way data synchronization. Others think in terms of interoperable data formats or data gravity that could help make the determination one way or the other.
Another factor that is increasingly becoming prominent in building a hybrid cloud strategy is the introduction of containers not just on-premise but across private and public cloud. Enterprises need to think in terms of a multicloud container platform while formulating their hybrid cloud plans.
A number of case-by-case considerations need to be thought through when building a workload-driven cloud strategy. Working with a trusted adviser with deep consulting expertise can mean the difference between long-term success and failure.
Openness matters even more in the cloud
"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."
The lyrics of the Eagles’ classic song Hotel California written in the mid ‘70s ring true for public clouds today. Open matters more than ever. Just because some cloud providers use open technologies and industry-standard interfaces to build public cloud platforms doesn’t mean they always live up to the promise of a truly open platform. One that enables portability, migration, and heterogeneity. One without exorbitant egress costs to move workloads to across the hybrid cloud continuum. One that lets you deploy any application, in any environment, without lock-in. In the words of Red Hat’s head of products and technologies, Paul Cormier, "half open is half closed."
As the initial euphoria around the convenience of the public cloud is replaced by the reality of lock-in risks, we advise enterprises to build a workload-driven hybrid cloud strategy before it’s too late. For exactly those reasons, we predict a clear demarcation in the way the industry thinks about hybrid cloud vs. public cloud in the future. It will be interesting to pull another Google Trends report in a year to see if that turns out to be true.
About the author
Irshad Raihan is the Director of Product Marketing for Red Hat Cloud Storage and Data Services, responsible for strategy, thought leadership, and go-to-market execution. Previously, he held senior product marketing and product management positions at HPE and IBM for big data and data management products.
Raihan holds an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University and a Masters in Computer Science from Clemson University. He is based in Northern California.